By Charlotte Ørnemark, GPSA Knowledge & Learning
Can handing out cash to the poor – on the condition that they send their children to school, take them for regular health checks, and show up to monthly meetings – also help transform citizen-government relations? Unlikely as this may seem, the World Bank financed conditional cash transfer program Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), administered nationwide in the Philippines by the Department for Social Welfare, is doing is just that.
“Before, we came to the monthly meetings to listen to the public officials,” says one woman. “Now they come here to listen to us.”
She is sitting in a circle of 15 women who have gathered at the Galkin Community Center in Pangasinan, where the civil society organization RECITE usually carries out their trainings of parent leaders. What they have in common is that they are all leading parent groups in Northern Luzon where a GPSA funded civil society grant is putting parents in charge of leading the outreach and training of peers. This includes involving their group members in the monitoring – both of their own children’s health check-ups and school attendance and in interacting with local officials about the services and facilities they use. In around 30 municipalities in the region, the project is complementing the well-established national cash transfer program as a means of mitigating the risk of misuse or misappropriation of the cash hand-outs and to make it more effective.
There is already an up to 20% increase in beneficiary compliance with program conditions where the implementing organization, the Concerned Citizens of Abra for Good Governance (CCAGG) together with partners like RECITE are active. For parent leaders who are being taught to engage their groups in learning by carrying out different monitoring tasks, it has led to shifts in attitudes both about their own capabilities and about local governance.
“My daughter always tells me that I can do it,” says another woman. “She inspires me to do my job well. People in our barangay now call me ‘Madam’. I feel that I am respected in our community.”
Others speak of the fact that being a parent leader has altered the way they look at local politics. “Before we were ashamed to ask our local leaders how public money was spent since many of us had sold our votes. If you were given money by someone, how can you criticize them? When the next election comes, I will use my vote for someone who can help us. It is no longer for sale.”
This is a radical shift away from a culture where the quality of public service is seen to be based on personal favors rather than government obligations, and where ‘vote-buying’ from the poor is widespread.
Moreover, by linking parent groups to a regional network of civil society organizations, new channels are opened up for local groups as well as their trained leaders to get involved in public affairs. What’s more, with the potential of integrating this learning approach into how cash-transfers happen nation-wide, investing in 4.4 million of the country’s poorest along with a new crop of local leaders may help co-create a culture of integrity that is truly informed by the citizens themselves.
Photo: Beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) filling out self-evaluation forms regarding the health and education of their children.
 A unit of administration in Philippine society consisting of an average of around 2400 inhabitants (5000 in Metro Manila).